Nearly lost in this weekend’s holiday news was the New Mexico Health Department’s announcement of a second case of bubonic plague in Santa Fe County in May. Both human cases are responding to treatment and recovering well. Plague has been detected among humans and wildlife “from many different locations of north-central New Mexico”.
As regular readers here know, bubonic plague is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, that primarily infects ground dwelling rodents and is transmitted to humans usually by rodent fleas. See this post for plague’s chain of infection.
Signs and symptoms of human plague are fatigue, fever, headaches and often a painful swelling in the neck, arm pit, groin or thigh. The health department is recommending that anyone in the region who gets a rapid, severe fever sees a physician promptly. Treatment must to begin as soon as possible. In 2009, New Mexico had six cases of plague with one fatality in an 8-year-old boy.
Common sense precautions are warranted:
- Stay away from rodents and their fleas, rabbits and other ground-dwelling wildlife.
- If you find a dead animal, call the health department to investigate. Do not get close to it because their fleas are looking to hitch a ride and get a snack.
- Pets are a major source of bubonic plague in areas like New Mexico. The health department is recommending: keeping pets away from rodents including rabbits, using flea control products and do not sleep with your pet. Do not handle any animal that is acting strangely, especially stray cats.
Reference: May 27, 2011 – New Mexico Dept. of Health Reports Second Human Plague Case in New Mexico for 2011 Santa Fe County Man is Hospitalized and Recovering . Press release.